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John McCarthy

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Artist statement

Painting to truly have character, even, if not especially, landscape painting, must first have an existence as problematic as any other. Painter Paul Butler wrote in a letter to the Winter ’97 issue of Modern Painters:

  But how can an artist engage in an inventive process if he/she knows the outcome in advance? Invention is by its very nature unpredictable. It requires the artist to enter into an open-ended dialectical process where the very notion of intention is called into question.

This is my belief, as well.

The renowned physicist, Heisenberg told the following story concerning his friend and fellow physicist Niels Bohr:

  Once, when on a lonely road I threw a stone at a distant telegraph post, and contrary to all expectations the stone hit, he [Bohr] said, ‘To aim at such a distant object and hit it is of course impossible. But if one has the impudence to throw in that general direction without aiming, and in addition to imagine something so absurd as that one might hit it, yes, then perhaps it can happen. The idea that something could happen can be stronger than practice and will.

A truly contemporary American landscape artist cannot avoid both aiming in the general direction of a post-modernist “take” on the sublime and imagining that a “hit” might happen. Mercifully for me, the idea that “something could happen” really is “stronger than practice or will.” I do
not believe one can rely on even one’s own canned stylistic devices
and remain authentically present in the process of creation. Perhaps
this accounts for my lack of interest in every gaining a “mature,” i.e.,
final, style. “Gaining” such a style, I might become simply a performer! Existence should precede essence.


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